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Among the Scholars - 1

David W. Hester

religion, articles, christianity

A Christian Scholars Conference was held on the campus of Harding University July 22-24, 1993. The theme of the meeting was worship. Professors from several of our Christian universities participated, as did men who are not connected with any of "our" schools.

Some of the participants were guilty of effete snobbery. A distinction was made between "specialists" (themselves) and "nonspecialists" (those who do not have advanced degrees). In a conversation between two of these litterateurs concerning a book critical of the "new hermeneutic," one of these sages huffed, "That's what happens when a lawyer tries to do theology."

References to Scripture were sparse. More time was spent in quoting neo-orthodox and evangelical scholars than the Bible.

Another area of concern was the language used by these pedants. Over and over the phrases church renewal and worship renewal were declared. What was interesting about this was the amount of time spent in bashing "traditionalism" as opposed to giving a clear picture of what the church should be.

I also detected a condescending attitude toward the man in the pew. Solomon said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Paul said of some of his day, "ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7), and "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."

The area of most concern, however, was the false doctrines which were promoted. The lectures I attended contained a "smorgasbord" of deviations from the Truth.

Among such doctrines were: an expanded role for women in the church (radical feminism), false teaching on marriage, divorce, remarriage, and special music in the worship (choirs, solos).

Perhaps the most drastic perversion of Truth came from an advocate of radical feminism. He pressed for a rethinking of the nature of God to accommodate the "feminine" side of the church. This "wise man" claimed that a view of God which thinks and addresses the Creator as exclusively male is "an idolatrous image." He also claimed that, although Jesus addressed God as Father, it "probably" was not the only way in which he thought of God.

Well, now! We have a man of letters who purports to read the mind of the Son of Man and know he sympathizes with those who wish to use "nonsexist" language in addressing Deity. Never mind that the original language of both Old and New Testaments addresses Deity with masculine pronouns. Did Bible writers have "an idolatrous image" of Jehovah?

It insults the intelligence of faithful brethren to think that man can make the Almighty an idolatrous image! The pundit claimed the reason for saying such is that there are many rape victims and spousal abuse cases in our churches. All of that can be cured if we call God "she."

It was also claimed that, if we do not bow to the will of this feminist, we will "lose a whole generation of young women and young people from our churches." This offends the sensibilities of all clearheaded brethren. It also reveals the agenda behind such pabulum. If one gains the "hearts and minds" of the young, he will have captured in entire generation.

The most curious doctrine promoted was concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The person promoting it said that "fornication" in Matthew 19:9 does not refer to any sexual sin, but only to incest! His proof? Recent finds from the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that in some cases, the word translated "fornication" can refer to incest! Never mind what respected Greek authorities say about the word; look hard enough, and you'll find "proof"!

One doctrine that dominated the conference the last morning was special music in worship. This conclusion was assumed to be axiomatic: The first-century church employed choirs and solos; therefore, we in the modern church may have them in our worship of God. When one looks at the reasons given, he is at first puzzled as to the curious logic and then amused at the absurdity of the claim.

Those who set out to prove the case turned to I Corinthians 14:26 and declared triumphantly, "The church at Corinth had those who brought a psalm; therefore, they had special music at Corinth, and so may we!" They misuse the verse. Paul says some brought "a doctrine, tongue, revelation, interpretation." These items are of the miraculous and relate to Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts.

The spontaneous character of the manifestations is graphically indicated. There was no lack of persons eager to manifest some gift. But perhaps the Apostle intimates that they do not come to public worship quite in the right spirit. This readiness to come to the front would be sure to lead to abuse unless carefully controlled. What they ought to be eager to do is to use their gifts for the good of all. This is the optima norma. But we cannot safely infer that we have here the order in which the manifestations commonly took place at Corinth, first a psalm, then instruction, and so on. Compare the account of Christian assemblies in Tertullian (Apol. 39). The account of the Therapeutae ought not to be quoted in illustration, still less as Philo's: the peri biou theoretikou is possibly a Christian fiction, and perhaps wholly imaginative. ... It is remarkable that there is no propheteian echei. Was that gift so despised at Corinth that those who possessed it did not often come forward? (Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, International Critical Commentary, First Corinthians, 2nd ed., T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1967, p. 20-21).

Did the scholars at Searcy not have access to this as well as many other sources which would tell them that their interpretation of the verse is highly spurious? Also, ridicule was heaped upon those who say Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are referring to congregational singing only and not to solo or choir singing.

One must assume that the licentiates did not do their homework. Several respected Greek authorities are unanimous in opinion about the pronouns in the two verses. Dana and Mantey classify them as "reciprocal, reflexive pronouns" and list the verses as examples. They also mention "an interchange of the action signified in the verb" (p. 132). Machen agrees (p. 154) and Summers, too (p. 120).

Also, consider this. The two epistles were addressed to "the saints ... saints at Colossae" (Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2). In addition, they were to be read to the church assembled (Col. 4:16; Eph. 6:21-22). How in the world could the brethren in the two cities have gotten the idea that Paul intended for them to have choirs, solos, and the like? To ask is to answer.

This is but a taste of what I experienced at Harding. There is more to this story.

Feature Book: Among the Scholars

by David W. Hester

Paperback, 167 pages
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Published November 1993